heart lights

WE WERE GATHERED around the dinner table, our feast consumed, our wine glasses refilled, when Linda brought out the box. She moved casually, nonchalant, the action drawing no attention at all. Then it sat there–just sat there, that box–seeming so insignificant as to have hardly been worth the effort it took to get it to the top of this mountain.

We carried on unknowing, the eight of us, caught up as we were in some other silly story about some ridiculous situation we found ourselves in thirty, forty, even fifty years ago.

We’ve known each other that long, you see. We are women who grew up together (in every sense of that phrase) in the 60s and 70s in a tiny mountain town on the remote southwestern edge of Virginia. It was a place buffeted from the world by ancient ridges that both nestled and isolated us. We did not realize the significance of this geography at the time, our worlds extending only as far as away high school basketball games required. We had little sense of a big world beyond that, in the years since, has flung us from South Florida to Louisiana to Maine–and many, many cities, large and small, in between.

And still we come together once or twice a year to reconnect and recharge and re-establish our roots. It’s a vital practice that brings light and love and nourishment to our souls. It makes me think of that scene in ET where the sweet creature’s chest LIGHTS UP when he is in silent communion with someone he loves, a soul connection with another who understands. It  happens when we are together. Our heart lights glow.


the ancient oak on the mountain we call Mother


SO ANYWAY the thing is sitting there, the very quiet box, and by some miracle there is a tiny, tiny break in the conversation, and I think it was Julie who said, What is that, Linda? What have you got there?

Oh, this? Linda says. I was clearing out some things. Wondered if you guys want them.

This got our attention, you bet it did, and all of a sudden that little vessel became a magic box from which an endless supply of memories came flooding over and around that table.

Oh, my, the stuff that box held.


(There was this much joy.)


PERHAPS IT WOULD BE more accurate to say the memories had to be excavated, because lord have mercy it took every one of us working together to reconstruct what may or may not have led to and resulted from the memories that box contained. For instance Linda produced two letters I wrote to her when I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman in college. I’m not kidding I have no memory of ANY of the things I wrote her about. Suffice it to say there was a great deal of detail and Every Single Sentence revolved around one boy or another, or what some girl said about one boy or another, or how I felt about what the girl said about the boy who may or may not have had anything at all to do with me. In a million years I’d never have believed that’s what we found significant in our lives back then. Sixth grade, yes. But seriously, not at 18. (Let me state for the record Julie was a bit more profound in her letters than I.)

Good heavens did that stuff make us laugh.


Case in point.


(We were also quite pleased we actually wrote each other letters. By hand. On paper. That we then had to go to the post office to mail.)


IT WAS a glorious weekend together, time filled with so much love and laughter I am still trying to recover. And I’m thinking hard about that hidden-away world in which we twirled batons and hosted sleepovers and knew every word to every Eagles song ever recorded (which we sang at the top of our lungs).

How grateful I am for the blessing of a happy, happy childhood.


Amy, Vickie, Cathy, Sharon, Lisa, Suzann, Linda, Julie

How grateful I am for these women.



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Surprises, big and small

It’s like a big pinch of joy spice added to regular life, wouldn’t you say?

I’m talking about surprise, the happy kind, the popping of a little jolt of wow! right into a regular old day. It makes your heart soar and sing and dance and reminds you how nice it is to be in this world, how good it is to have people in it who know you and love you and think of you and go to the trouble to show it even when it might take a rather large bit of effort.

It happened to me yesterday, and my heart is still dancing.

First, the doorbell rang. As this does not happen regularly at my house, my sweet dog, Little Bit, and I both ran straight for the front door to see what on earth might be going on. This is what we found.

a rather large surprise
a big surprise

Needless to say, it was a thrill to find my name in the “TO” space on the label of this gigantic box. I brought it into our foyer.

It's so big!
To: Cathy Monetti

With great curiosity and even greater gusto, I began to open it.

so much bubble wrap!
bubble wrap galore

I unwrapped, and unwrapped, and unwrapped, and finally, there it was.


Oh. Wow. Oh, wow!


A most amazing surprise from my dear friend, Sharon, one of the Wise Women who lives a million miles away in Louisiana. (You’ve met her here before, aka Speckled Pup.) I called her, pronto.

The moment I saw it, I knew it was for you she said.

And with that, my dear ones, another layer of happy slathered itself right over my giddy heart. I skipped through the rest of the day, and the night, and even now—another day later—the joy of that surprise has me feeling as light and hopeful as, well…as a feather.



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edisto 4: botany bay, bird watching, and magic

How perfect I thought as we made the turn, this most glorious approach to Edisto’s Botany Bay. What a spectacular introduction to the South Carolina Lowcountry.

We were here, we Wise Women, friends for 50 years, mountain girls gathered for an annual reunion weekend in my home state. We parked, unloaded, and started the gorgeous walk through the wildlife preserve to the beach.

We’re going to see a Painted Bunting I said out loud, knowing it for sure, knowing in my heart. Knowing the sheer wish of it on this day, in this place, with these friends, was enough to make it come true.

lisa love
vast marsh views. life in perspective.

We walked and watched, listened and looked. In no time at all, we reached the shore.

the beach at botany bay

Time for wandering. Time for wondering. Time for—well, time.

We eventually gathered to make the pretty walk back, and I turned my attention to the birds. We could hear them there in the deep green, birds so well camouflaged along the jungled path it was impossible to spot even the slightest movement. It would be cool to know his call, to know he’s in there, I thought, pulling my trusty iPhone from my back pocket. I typed painted bunting song and there it was. The song of a Painted Bunting.

Play it again, so he can hear it, she said. And so I did, again, and again. And before long you can guess just what happened. A lone voice in the jungle came singing back to us.

iPhone. Jungle. iPhone. Jungle.

We gathered around, each of us peering deeply into the trees, each watching for any sign of movement.

The jungle sound came closer.

There he is! someone said, pointing to a branch just above us, a branch so backlit it was impossible to identify anything more than the shape of a bird.

I handed the phone to Sharon, who played the love song again while I grabbed for my camera, praying for a setting that would show a Painted Bunting, the brilliant colors of this rare bird, this most beautiful of songbirds. That’s when he dove down toward the phone, then up to a limb on the other side of the path.

A short jump and he was there in a tree with a branch perfectly positioned in front of us.

Another short hop and we could finally see his wing, this young painted bunting, posing and singing, singing and posing, making magic before our very eyes.

We couldn’t believe our luck, the drawing out of this shy bird willing to join our little posse for a few moments, happily bringing his joy and his beauty and his song.

How generous in spirit he was.

How like this group of women.


a little treasure I left on the beach at Botany Bay

edisto 3: visiting south carolina

I might as well say it: There’s a bit of pressure a girl puts on herself when she’s the hostess. It’s made doubly so when the occasion is an entire weekend for your high school friends (the Wise Women) spent in your adopted—and rather foreign to them—homeland.

I needn’t have fretted a single second. From the first moments of their carefully coordinated arrival times at the Columbia airport to our it-went-by-sooo-fast goodbye hugs, South Carolina wrapped its sweet arms around us in a gentle and lovely way.

And then we visited Botany Bay. Do I have a story to tell you about Botany Bay.

the road in

edisto 2: in which i must ask forgiveness*

the wise women

We were sitting on the beach at sunset Saturday night when a thoughtful couple with a sweet brown dog came walking by. They stopped right in front of us, approaching quickly, insisting we produce a camera right that moment, right that very second, for an impromptu click click click of our happy little group.

You simply have to capture the joy of this moment, they said, the group of you laughing so easily together.

So unplanned, so far from perfect. (So unapproved.*)

My favorite moment of a weekend filled with a thousand perfect ones.


edisto 1: friends on the beach

They came from far and not-quite-as-far, my sweet loves, my oldest friends—destination BEACH. In all these years of annual “Wise Women” gatherings, it was the very first time we (mountain girls) have headed South.

It was a time for walking, laughing, eating, exploring, connecting, dreaming.

There was even time for a little quiet peace.


Speckled Pup

Sharon, AKA Pup, making me giggle

I am practicing everyday! she said—a most-Sharon-like response to Julie’s perfect “prepare to laugh” email.

We’re planning our Spring gathering, you see, these Wise women and I, friends since before kindergarten, friends for more than… oh lord…so many years.

I smiled so deep, giggled, myself, at the comment. Sharon is the one of us who laughs most easily, the one so generous in spirit sunshine follows her as she makes her way through the world.

I am practicing everyday, she said of laughing, this one of us whose heart is so big.

What a beautiful way to be.

Personal commandment #1: Be me.

Do you believe, as I do, that a wonderful gift of age is the ability to embrace—and celebrate—the things that make us different? It’s something that’s on my mind as I watch my own daughter, now 19, move beyond that overwhelming teenage need to blend and belong. She is a little more Eliza each time she comes home from college.

I think back to a gathering of my lifelong friends, the Wise Women, when we met last Spring at Primland. There was a moment late Saturday night when I looked around the room and into those familiar faces and I thought: How I love these women. How I admire them. How surprised I am we are here, all these years later, such an eclectic group.

Amy, Julie, Lisa, Suzann, Vickie, Cathy, Sharon

You see, we seven have been friends for 50 years. We share a unique history, growing up together in the 60s and 70s in the rugged mountains of Southwest Virginia, remote, isolated even. It was quite a time.

We were quite a group.

You might expect that we Wise Women would, today, have a great deal in common. And we do. Time together reconnects those links and offers a powerful, centering force. But we have also grown into ourselves, each of us, and have become a rather diverse collection. These annual gatherings are a celebration of those differences; they are the moments in which I feel the most transparent, loved not in spite of but because of the ways I have Become Cathy in my South Carolina life.


Be Gretchen is the first commandment author Gretchen Rubin wrote for herself in her year-long quest for greater happiness. I found it to be such a profound concept I, too, put it at the top of my list. In doing so, I vowed to let go of some long-held (and constantly nagging) intentions in exchange for an honoring of those abilities and interests that come to me more naturally.

What a wildly liberating thought. How wonderful to release the burden of eternal expectation and to instead, simply acknowledge what is.

I will get organized; clean off my desk. I will launch a thousand good ideas into the world.

I will learn to love to run, dammit! I will stretch and strengthen with Pilates.

I will start less and finish more. I will have a little bit of everything, thank you.

When it comes to our Wise Women weekends—making reservations, planning meals, coordinating travel—I am not the friend tasked with “details,” you can be sure. But there’s no doubt I will drive up in a car loaded down with bag after bag of unsanctioned snacks, several knitting projects, a sketchbook or two, a stack of magazines, the last 10 books I’ve loved, a ridiculous assortment of outfits. And shoes. Always way too many shoes.

After all. How can a girl possibly know on Thursday what she is going to feel like wearing on Sunday?

Actually, we all take too many shoes. (We counted.)